Parking for Churchill Downs is always a bit of a disaster.
If you feel patient, you can take exit 128 on I-65 (past the Watterson Expressway as though you're heading to the Ford Plant). Yes, it's a few miles away, but there is ample parking with free shuttles.
From what I've heard the shuttles are very reliable, but I like to be walking distance from my car. I wasn't able to get into Papa John's Stadium, where I'd originally been told to park, so I bravely drove around the Churchill Downs neighborhood. Anyone who has negotiated this area during Derby knows a major event at the Downs turns all area residents into ambitious entrepreneurs.
You'll find people with cardboard signs advertising $10 parking as far away as the Arby's across the street from our poor deceased Six Flags. A few ambitious souls are trying to charge $15 or $20 when you get closer, but they're competing with people one block away who are also charging $10. Market forces at work allowed me to find a space 2 blocks from a Churchill Downs entrance near gate 10 for only $10.
The most ambitious person trying to profit off parking had to be a nameless cook from Churchill Downs who was outside one of the back gates in food splattered kitchen whites with a handful of staff passes trying to milk me for $25.
If you do park at Papa Johns Stadium or more than a few blocks away there are a couple of fair food vendors ready to feed you cheap along the way. My personal favorite is the falafel and hummus stand - although if you're craving a funnel cake you can find that too. Funnel cakes are a vegetarian lunch option when you're at a festival, right?
Photo credit Chris-Rachael Oseland.